Summer Slump

Mobile games may not play by the same rules.

We have now entered summer (in the Northern Hemisphere, anyway), which is traditionally a slow time for sales in the game industry.  The explanation over the years has generally been that this is a time during which people take vacations and spend more time outside, so they spend less time at the computer or game system and play fewer games.  This certainly makes sense for desktop and console games, but in this day of increased use of mobile devices and handhelds, the traditional explanation may not hold (as much) water.  When one of your game systems (i.e., phone) travels with you everywhere, it makes sense that it would get used as much as usual; in fact, it is likely used more in places like airports, the back seat of a car during a long drive, and the hotel room after the swimming pool has closed for the evening.

Of course, if summer shifts play to mobile games, where the (dubious) profits are marginal, at best, this is still likely to result in an overall slump for companies who support more than one type of platform.  Nevertheless, I expect that consumer behavior changes differently in the summer with respect to mobile games.  I would hope for extra game purchases in preparation for a vacation or while waiting during travel.

Interestingly, our limited data (with a little squinting :) ) can fit that scenario.  Since the holiday weekend at the end of May (Memorial Day in the United States, Late Spring Bank Holiday in the UK), downloads have changed.  At the start of that weekend, we saw a spike in downloads which mostly persisted through the (holiday) Monday, after which they essentially flatlined for a few days.  Then, last weekend, we had another (smaller) spike on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, then (now) back to zip.  Alas, our total download counts are too small to draw definitive conclusions (or even be statistically significant :( ), and it has only been a couple of weekends.  (Our sales do not definitively correlate with downloads.)  Also, many schools around here are still in session, so we are not really into the heart of summer vacation season either, though the weather is definitely much improved.

Demolish! Pairs 1.11Operating more on the assumption that mobile sales may persist through the summer, and the knowledge that sales really need to improve, than on the need for experimental data, we have decided to put Demolish! Pairs on sale for 50% off throughout the month of June, and we have likewise discounted all IAP products in Demolish! Pairs FTP similarly.  Sure, it may skew the data, but in a good way. :)

As a reward for reading this blog post (assuming that you have done so in a timely manner), I will tell you that we are approaching the 1 year anniversary of the Demolish! Pairs release, and to celebrate, we plan to make the game absolutely free for one day only, on June 18, 2014.  You can download the game on that day (two weeks from today) and keep it forever.

“There’s a hole in the cat bag!” Relaunch

Our game development consulting site is back online.

SophSoft game development and consulting servicesEarlier this week, we relaunched our SophSoft web site, which lists some of our quality game development services and professional game contracting experience.

The site is

Historically, this site has been the main web site for SophSoft, Incorporated, our parent company.  We have had and used the domain name since November 14, 1995, and the official corporate name was, in fact, taken from the domain name.

The site has been down for a while, though.  Honestly, we found ourselves in a bit of a weird and unfortunate situation.  When our business partner and artist, Rick Tumanis, died back in 2011, it was a huge loss.  Not only did we need to regroup from the sadness, but we also no longer had our Art Director to draw upon.  This meant both that the services we offered would need to change and that the person in charge of web design and appearance was, shall we say, unavailable.

After more than two and half years, with the site having been pulled when we replaced a web server quite a while ago, I finally made the move and built the new (albeit small) site and published it for those who have been looking for our game development services.  I kept a few items from Rick on there, but realigned the focus.  At some point, I will add pages specific to our various contracting projects, but for now, the site is back.

If you need game development assistance, either with technical programming challenges or with higher level management and design, or want to have an entire game created by a professional team with decades of experience, be sure to check out SophSoft.

“Nothing Short of a Masterpiece.”

DGOlympics Postmortem

Our social media service provided some interesting data.

XXII Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia

The XXII Winter Olympic Games (a.k.a., Sochi 2014) took place in Sochi, Russia on February 6-23, 2014.  Digital Gamecraft started covering the event via a special @DGOlympics Twitter account, and a new DGOlympics Facebook page, January 24.

Prior to the actual competition, we reported all manner of information about the upcoming events, schedules, venues, and athletes, and once events got started, we reported news and results for all 98 athletic events, in 15 disciplines within 7 primary sports.  We provided a totally free real-time service, on two platforms, with no advertising.

Twitter Service

On Twitter, we posted (necessarily) short factoids and results, including podium finishers for every single event, as well as qualifiers and/or standings (as appropriate) from earlier segments of the competition.  At the start of each competitive day, we posted a list of the medal events that day and highlighted other interesting events.  At the conclusion of competition each day, we posted medal rankings and counts for the top countries.

The format of the result posts was a sport/discipline tag (e.g., #bobsleigh) followed by the event within that discipline, including ‘Men’ or ‘Women’ as appropriate, and then the actual results or interesting facts.  We originally began using #men and #women hashtags, but clicking on either brought up a whole lot of irrelevant and inappropriate garbage, so we dropped that practice quickly.  We made a point of always mentioning the results for American athletes, usually tagged with #TeamUSA.

Shortly after we started posting results, we began to also send out congratulatory tweets to those athletes who earned medals and also had a Twitter account.

By the end of Sochi 2014, we had made almost 1500 tweets (since London 2012).

Facebook service

On Facebook, we posted essentially the same information as Twitter, but without the size constraints, we often included information from several related tweets in a single Facebook update.  For example, all of the upcoming events and highlights for a day were included in one update.  Also, some updates (including medal ranks/counts) provided a little more information (e.g., top 10 instead of top 5) than the similar tweets.

The format of the result posts was similar to Twitter as well, except that sport/discipline tags were included at the end of each post, rather than within a sentence, where the name was spelled out normally.  Results for a single event (or segment thereof) were often combined into a single update, but results from different events were always separate.

We posted hundreds of updates by the end of Sochi 2014.


Beginning with just a few (<10) Twitter followers left over from London 2012, we simply worked on providing a quality service, without external marketing.  Throughout the course of the Winter Games, our following grew gradually and organically to nearly 40 (paltry).  The Facebook page was brand new, and with a single request to all of my friends, the number of ‘likes’ jumped to just short of 30 overnight, but it took the duration for it to grow to almost exactly the same number as Twitter followers.

As Sochi 2014 got started, our Facebook page passed 30 ‘likes’, which is a significant milestone, because at that level one gains access to Insights, which provides information about how many people see each post, the number of people “engaged”, and the total “reach” of your page.  This is where things started getting interesting.

Despite the measly ‘like’ (and ‘followers’) counts, posts were clearly being seen and read far more widely.  Our total engagement numbers were higher than the total number of ‘likes’ on the page, and our reach was in the thousands each week.  Individual posts varied widely, but some got hundreds of views each (without being ostensibly shared), far beyond expectations with fewer than 40 ‘likes’.  On the Twitter side, with no similar analytics, we could still see similar behaviors, when results were often retweeted within minutes of posting, and almost always by somebody who did not follow us.

Though our hopes were to gain more Twitter followers, our tweets congratulating athletes did get some responses, in the form of favorites and retweets, as well as at least one non-athlete Twit who wanted to argue the validity of an official result.  Here is our shout out to the athletes who took the time to acknowledge our tweets:

The sheer number of hours (more than 200) spent compiling information, monitoring the events, and reporting results was astounding, and completely exhausting.  When the Closing Ceremony began, we were more than ready to post the final tallies and be done with the Olympics for 2 more years (at least :) ).


First, the number of ‘likes’ on Facebook and the number of followers on Twitter do not tell the entire story.  We were clearly reaching many times that number of people.

Second, providing a purely informational resource, free of charge, is not enough to fully engage an audience.  We probably needed more cats and misspelled “meme” images.

Third, a comprehensive information resource like the one we provided seems to lose interest over time.  Whether it was Olympic weariness or something more general, our “reach” numbers peaked after about a week and a half, and then slowly declined (although they remained in the low thousands).

Fourth, a concentrated social media resource requires a major commitment of time which, in this instance, is in no way justified by the results.  I, personally, am not sure that I am willing to commit to this again for Rio 2016.

Fifth, even after providing loads of information for weeks, people on social media are apparently still jaded against marketing messages.  Our penultimate Facebook update, which ended with “Please note that DGOlympics has been brought to you by Digital Gamecraft, developer of Demolish! Pairs,“, got the fewest views of any post during the entirety of this experiment, by a factor of 2.


Please share your tricks (and failures) about dealing with social media in the comments.

2014: Full Speed Ahead

The new year has gotten off to a snow start, though.

For us here at SophSoft, Incorporated and Digital Gamecraft, 2014 is starting a little bit later than originally scheduled.  We took our usual couple of weeks off at the turn of the year, but the weather decided to insert itself into our plans.  On the first full day of our break, we were hit by a serious ice storm, and although we were very lucky to be mostly unaffected by the power outages, our immediate neighbors were without electricity until New Years Eve.  Fortunately, they were back online just in time to watch the Michigan State University Spartans win the Rose Bowl!

On the first day “back” from the break, we received more than 18 inches of snow, which essentially shut down all of East Lansing and surrounding communities for a couple of days.  Although we could still get development work done, the first priority was digging out, and that took many hours of physical effort, so it was not easy to just jump right back onto the project schedule.  On top of that, we received several pieces of personal news, both bad and good, so it was an emotional week, too.   (Personally, I managed to get sick in the midst of all of this, from which illness I am still recovering.)

Nevertheless, despite the slow ramp up, we are now approaching full speed ahead with game development in 2014.  We added some newer development systems to assist with our desktop and mobile development, so now we have a state-of-the-art environment for creating games for Windows (up to 8.1), Mac OS X (through Mavericks), Linux (Ubuntu), iOS, Android, Windows Phone, HTML 5, Silverlight, Flash, Xbox 360, OUYA, and more.  If anybody needs to contract some programming talent, you can contact me here.

The 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi (Russia) are just three weeks away, and we expect to have unprecedented coverage, both through our @DGOlympics twitter feed, where we will again provide results for all events (as we did for the London Summer Olympics in 2012), as well as through a new (broader) game site that we plan to announce shortly.  If you have any interest in the Olympic Games, please follow us at @DGOlympics and spread the word.

On the Solitaire front, our top priority is finishing the substantial rebuild of Pretty Good Solitaire Mac Edition and the other Goodsol Solitaire Engine games.  While we have, unquestionably, the best technical platform (and the most games) for the Mac, we are revisiting the interface to make it even more fun to play.  Of course, we are also planning to add many more new games in our relentless march toward 1000. :)

We have a new iOS upgrade for Demolish! Pairs (and later, Demolish! Pairs FTP) in the works.  We are adding (at least) one new play mode, by popular request, and several other new features.  (The exact list of features will be determined based on scheduling considerations.)  Of course, you can buy Demolish! Pairs on the App Store now and get the upgrade for free when it is released.

There are currently three more major projects in design and development, but I will announce each of those here at an appropriate (later :) ) time.  Additionally, there are always a number of maintenance projects which, at this point, include changes to our iOS games mandated by Apple to be “optimized for iOS 7”, modifications to most of our Windows games to properly handle touch interface changes made in Windows 8.1, and of course, everything can use a fresh coat of virtual paint for 2014.

Rather than spend any more time typing about this, I should get back to actual development work, as 2014 is looking to be our most exciting year yet!

Free-to-Play Take 1: Rejected

The first submission of Demolish! Pairs FTP was rejected by Apple.

As I mentioned in my last post, I decided to embrace the free-to-play concept fully (if perhaps halfheartedly).  Unfortunately, my first attempt for iOS did not result in reciprocation, as Apple reviewers rejected the IAP (In-App Purchase) products submitted with the product, Demolish! Pairs FTP.  (Alas, it took the product 8 days to get a review, which then lasted only 15 minutes before the rejection notice.)

I had designed what I thought was a well-balanced menu of (4) IAP products, ranging from a “Golden Ticket” at $3.99 (the current price of the “paid” game) down to an inexpensive “Two Day Pass“.  This last item ran afoul of a guideline I had overlooked:

Content subscriptions using IAP must last a minimum of 7 days and be
available to the user from all of their iOS devices

The inclusion of that product was intended to mimic a standard overnight video rental, which is a clearly established mechanism for viewing movies, instead applied to a downloadable video game.  I felt that the inclusion of a $0.99 item (subscription, in this case) was important to anchor the bottom end and provide a quick, low resistance, purchase option for the customer.  The economics also basically require that a product priced in such a manner be something of a standalone, since the gap between pricing tiers is 1 dollar US, so this lowest (non-free) tier does adequately fill the space between any two other tiers; the short subscription would have met the need quite nicely.

I accepted the decision (since I had completely missed this restriction in my earlier review of submission guidelines), but not without registering my thoughts on the matter:

I realize that you do not have the authority to overrule the cited guideline, but I personally feel that it is misguided and stifles innovation.  In particular, overnight rentals have been well-established in the video rental industry, and our “Two Day Pass” option was intended to be analogous.  Now we have no method to test the acceptability of this approach (to customers) under iOS.

Indeed, I do intend to experiment with this option under Android, if possible (and I will read payment guidelines with this in mind), since one major goal of this whole procedure is to learn what does and does not work in this arena.

Preparing a second submission

Clearly, Apple was not going to allow me to experiment with this idea (as is), and I was convinced that extending the subscription to 7 days would unbalance the design, as would increasing the price of what was, very deliberately, the most inexpensive choice.  Besides, the “Two Day Pass” idea was already engraved in button artwork. :)

Rather than taking a bat to my IAP product design and hoping it remained stable, or delaying release long enough for a redesign to accommodate a different low end option, I decided to simply remove the “Two Day Pass” entirely, initially offering only 3 IAP products for sale.  Although the anchor I wanted is no longer there, this whole exercise is somewhat experimental and, certainly, incomplete data now is better than complete data delayed (and, hence, no data in the interim).

It pained me, due to the many hours of design, implementation, and testing, but it was far easier to remove the option than to add it in the first place; the second submission of Demolish! Pairs FTP was completed on the same day as the initial rejection.

Planning for the future

The design for the free-to-play version of Demolish! Pairs already envisions several updates to the IAP system that were not (fully) implemented for the initial release.  A replacement for the inexpensive subscription product was just added to the list of features to be added in future upgrades, and an idea is already in the works.

With the removal of the fourth product button from the store page, the “hole” in that page looks even larger than it did previously.  However, the view actually contains (hidden) controls for some of the upcoming options, including the fourth product button, so the store will look progressively better as we roll out these features.  Of course, all of that is premised on the free-to-play edition actually registering on the income needle.

So, now we wait (again)…